The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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(Nov. 4, 2009)
          I'd rather be. . .

          Singing in the old Tehachipi Glee Club with W. C. Fields.
          On my bike, minus training wheels for the first time, with my brother holding the back end steady. Or so I thought, until I turned around, and saw him about thirty feet behind me, smiling. At which point, I promptly fell over.
          On a tramp steamer, in the mess, peeling potatoes.
          Hiking through the hills of Thousand Oaks, after a big rain, when the sky was still clouded over and all the greens of chapparal and sage were almost luminous against the dark chocolate mud and dirt.
          On the first one-way spaceship to colonize Mars.
          On my way to work at the Valley News as a copyboy at 5 a.m., stopping at a donut place and wolfing two or three chocolate cake donuts with chocolate sprinkles and a large coffee, then going into the office to rip the wires and sort and deliver mail before anyone else arrived.
           In some dark hollow. Where the sun don’t ever shine.
           At the kitchen table on a sunny Sunday morning with Moe, Ben, Betty, while Shirley decked everything out with lox, bagels, bialys, cream cheese, pickled herring, capers, onions, and endless refills of iced coffee.
           Ski-flying. Well, maybe not.
          At the same kitchen table in the evening, with The Three Stooges on the little black-and-white, and Shirley talking on the phone to an ever-flowing stream of friends who needed comfort or just an ear, while Betty noshed, and Moe talked to me encouragingly about my writing, or tried to explain lasers.    
          Talking to Art about music. Now I talk to music about Art.
          Dropping the needle of the Garrard turntable on to the spinning disc with the rainbow band and the words, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on it. For the first time.
          Shaking hands with Kay Francis. I would have settled for just a handshake.
          In the little village of Hsin-Pu in Taiwan, at Chinese New Year, in the small hours of the morning, watching bats chasing bottle rockets.
          Thumbing my nose at Oprah Winfrey.
          With my friend, Jeff, half-way across Utah in his old Chevy Malibu, at 3 a.m., with nothing to listen to on the radio but very loud mariachi music piped in from Tijuana, broken up by the same commercial every five minutes for “Laboratorious Camacho.”
          Getting another prostate exam. Well, not really.
          In my desk in Mr. Javitz’s 6th grade class with lots of other squirmy, goofy kids on a hot, Santa Ana wind day, while Mr. Javitz made his way from desk to desk, helping us with our Spanish or math work, his sweat dripping on our papers.
          Reclining in a hammock on an island in the South Pacific, with coconut parfaits and many friendly and personable women.
          In the back row of desks in the city room of the Herald-Examiner, with Schwada, Gulotta, and Braxton. Smoking a cigar while Schwada fired up his pipe, making obscene remarks about various editors until Gulotta groaned and Braxton almost fell out of his chair, laughing.
          Trick or treating.
          Opening my Sherman Oaks apartment door one 1977 Halloween evening to find two rather comely female colleagues in full costume---one a tramp, the other a pussycat---trick-or-treating. Really. Just trick-or-treating.
          Watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round. I really love to watch them roll.
          In Isla Vista, in the summer of 1967, in a house full of nice hippies who treated me like a human being. Who went for walks on the beach with me, asked me about my life, my opinions.
          Drunk on top of the Empire State Building, daring the biplanes to get me.
          Standing at a urinal at the Filmex science-fiction marathon next to Stan Freberg, asking him when he was going to do part two of “The United States of America.”
          Playing poker with the Dalai Lama, smoking cigars and exchanging ribald stories.
          Meeting Bozo the clown (Vance Colvig), refusing to believe it was him because he was out of make-up, then having him reach down and tweak my nose exactly the way Bozo does, causing me to exclaim, “It is Bozo!”
          Trying to catch the wind.
          On the blacktop basketball court at Meadows Elementary School, alone, on a Saturday afternoon, shooting about a thousand baskets while Queenie the dog wandered around the playground. Stopping cold when KRLA played the new Beatles song I’d never heard before, “Lady Madonna," on my transistor radio. And being unable to figure out if it was Paul or Ringo.
          Having a beer with John Steinbeck. Or four.
          Smoking pot with a porter on the Amtrak Empire Builder at 3 a.m., somewhere in Montana or Idaho, then sitting in the observation car, alone, looking up at one of those skies that is more star than space.
          Successfully persuading Mario Lanza to give up Hollywood and stick to opera.
          Walking through the streets of Taipei in a pouring rain, with no umbrella, singing Beatles songs, frightening passers-by.
          A musician.
          Fishing on the Venice Pier around midnight, circa 1969, with my dog nearby, surrounded by families with radios and Hibachis, listening to mariachi music and idiotic talk shows. Then hauling up three great big, shiny pompano, causing much excitement and exclamation among a group of Japanese men, to whom I gave the fish. Causing even more excitement and exclamation. (Hell, I didn’t know how to clean them, anyhow.)
          On a slow boat to China.
          Leaning on the podium in room 21 at Venice High, where Mr. A.H. Rotman taught journalism, English lit, Shakespeare, and I spent three years on the school paper, Oarsman. Listening to Rotman telling ribald jokes, carrying on about politics or Sibelius or Jussi Bjoerling or how to give a ’63 Falcon a tune-up. Watching him make many a troubled kid feel better about himself or herself, when it was very badly needed.
          Up Shit Creek. Wait a second---I am.
          Camping at Sunset Beach in Monterey for a couple of weeks, alone, in 1978. And driving into Monterey every day to interview many people who knew Ed Ricketts.
          Listening to Dave "the Hullabalooer" Hull on KRLA. Or any of the great old KFAC announcers: Fred Crane, Tom Dixon, Thomas Cassidy, Carl Princi, Tom Franklin. . .
          Putting my wrecked apartment back together after the Northridge earthquake, and telling the landlord to leave all the cracks in the walls alone because, “They’re the scars of living in L.A..” And he went along with it. Nice landlord, was David T. Feldman.
          Watching “Superman” with George Reeves and beautiful Noell Neill one afternoon in 1959 as a reward for not crying while getting a shot.
          Interviewing Noell Neill in 1993 and telling her how I used to get up real close to the TV and try to see up her dress, and having her respond, without missing a beat, “You’d be amazed how many times I’ve heard that.”
          Doing the garden, digging the weeds. Who could ask for more?
          Getting up early in the home of my landlady, Jean, on beautiful Grand View Boulevard in Mar Vista during my senior year in high school, and having her fix me breakfast: a glass of grapefruit juice, black coffee, and a piece of toast. And trouncing her at Scrabble---well, sometimes---on Thursday nights.
          Having lunch again with Yoko Ono at the Polo Lounge. Really.
          Sitting in my apartment on Prairie Street in Northridge, with “the boys,” smoking weak pot and listening to music and laughing our asses off. Or better yet, watching Sunday night preachers with the sound off, and Lenny Bruce records turned up, waiting for their lips to synch with Lenny. And laughing our asses off.
          Riding one of the old L.A. Red Cars with Ray Bradbury in 1946.
          Sitting on the rooftop of the house in Costa Mesa, watching the nighttime fireworks at Disneyland “way far away.” Or standing in the front yard of that same house on July 4, waiting for my mom to come back from the Red Devil fireworks stand at midnight with fountains, Piccolo Petes, sparklers all marked down to a buck a shopping bagful.
          In Cannery Row, in Monterey, in about 1932, drinking cheap red wine and discussing the nature of things with Steinbeck, Ricketts, and Joseph Campbell.
          Sitting in the living room on Christmas Eve, 1968, and being allowed to unwrap one present early---The Beatles “white album,” of course---then sitting and listening to the whole thing in wonder with my brother. While my father grumbled things like, “I don’t think much of that ‘Dear Prudence,’ and ‘they’re finished---they’re falling apart.’”
          Eating goober peas.
          Taking Captain Beefheart for a ride in my ’66 green four-door Rambler Classic, stopping for dinner at The Apple Pan, where Don was transfixed by the contrast of gleaming brushed steel and the paper hats of the waiters. “That’s a good sculpture,” he said.
          Swimming the English Channel.
          Covering the wild student body election at CSUN in 1973, writing news stories--- and at the same time, a commentary endorsing candidate William Watkins (college papers: those were the days.) Watkins went on to become the school’s first African-American student body president, and today is vice-president of student affairs there.
          Successfully persuading The Beatles to take a temporary break in 1970, and get back together in a year or two.
          Washing boats in Marina del Rey, as I did during the summer of 1974. Best job I ever had.
          At the 1983 New Year's Eve Grateful Dead show, with a large rainbow moustache painted across my kisser.
          Driving a '56 Buick
          Giving George Harrison a bootleg of all his BBC appearances with The Beatles, marked "From Rip Rense," and having him ponder it quizzically, saying, "What's this Rip Rense?" "That's me," I said. "Oh," said George, laughing. "I thought it was something to do with 'rip-off,' seeing as it's a bootleg. . ."
          Driving through downtown L.A. with my father around 1958, seeing the streetcars and electric buses, and going for a ride on Angel’s Flight.
          Watching the great artist, Tyrus Wong, fly his magnificent kites on Santa Monica Beach.
          Dancing at Obon.
          Bagging groceries at the Westward Ho Market in Westwood after dropping out of college, wondering whether life was worth the trouble, having the question rendered moot by getting stoned on the way to work every morning at 6 a.m.. Worst job I ever had.
          Hitchhiking across China. Naked, painted head-to-foot in Yayoi Kusama polka-dots.
          Having my eyes bug out as I watched my brother drive the length of the basketball court, weave through stunned opposition, wrap the ball around behind his back, and lay it in to the sound of the Thousand Oaks High School crowd erupting in a roar of awe and applause. Then sitting around with the team afterward at Du-Par’s, having a cherry Coke, feeling like I was out on the town with celebrities.
          Making little kids laugh.
        On my old lime green ten-speed, where I lived after school and on weekends, riding to: “the store” (any store in town), the high school pool, the golf course to hit buckets of errant free balls my pals and I collected from over the fence. . .Or on my way to a strange, short-lived record store one incredibly hot day, where I bought “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die” by Country Joe and the Fish, then pedaling home like a madman and putting it on the stereo. Loud.
          At the Fox Conejo Theater, watching “Lilies of the Field” one Sunday summer afternoon, all by myself.
          Anywhere but on Facebook.
          Sending Frank Zappa into convulsive laughter by telling him the story of the 300-lb. “blind date” (long story) who came to my home while I was listening to his “Them or Us” album for the first time, and a song called “Jumbo Go Away" came on.
          Not driving in Los Angeles.
          With Terry and her mom and dad, Maggie and Charlie, and her brother, Tom, in the Monte Carlo, on our way to Sunday morning dim sum at Tai Hong, in the late ‘70’s, then just tooling around with Charlie at the wheel all afternoon. . .maybe stopping at Sakae Sushi in Gardena. . .or the Carnation coffee shop for some ice cream. . .
          On the road again.
          Listening to Chick Hearn moan, "And the Lakers are STANDING," preferably while calling any game in the late '60's or early '70's.
          Herding cats. Wait a second---I do that all day. Literally.
          With four of five or six great guys at one of the Ventura Fair Ground Grateful Dead Shows, after chewing up a nice vegetable, contemplating the energy relationships between the notes emerging from the impossibly piquant guitar of Jerry Garcia and the updrafts on which seagulls floated overhead.
          Organizing the first “Persevering Through Relentless Absurdity” Awards banquet.
          Sitting in a restaurant with the great Joe Shinn, quaffing beers and chewing some good ceviche, as Shinn held forth about how, in his youth, “We used to eat concrete---eat it like fudge.” Sending Scott Paul into apoplectic laughter.
          Setting all the cats and dogs in animal shelters free.
          Editing a definitive version of the “Get Back” sessions into a proper album. (And I could do it.)
          Sitting in Tom Waits's room in the Tropicana Motor Inn, circa 1976, listening to Tom explain why he had a VW bumper on his kitchen counter, and how we was planning to saw off a chunk of the drainboard in order to get piano in the living room. 
          Not talking to self-serious, preening L.A. jackasses, not watching them on the tube, not having to drive on the same streets with them, listen to them prattle into their cell phones, or on radio talkshows, and not having to read or hear their politically correct pontificating in the local press.
          Watching the night silhouettes of the family cats creeping stealthily on the ledge outside my childhood window, with rabbits or gophers hanging from their mouths.
          Buying and eating a pound of See’s mixed chocolates in about a day.
          Hearing Brahms' "German Requiem" done by the L.A. Phil for the first time, at age 19 or so, being so transported by the experience that I went backstage to thank Zubin Mehta, who put his arm around me and said, "My boy, you have no idea how much this means to me."
          In Chi-Tou in Taiwan, high in the mountains, in a cottage in a bamboo forest, listening to the silence.
          Anywhere with Annie.

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